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What's Going to Happen in the Indianapolis Backfield? - Footballguys

The Footballguys staff offers thoughts on the Indianapolis running back situation

Indianapolis has one of many backfields where the roles are not clearly defined. Since running back is one of the most important positions in fantasy football, it's wise to get as clear a picture as possible on every backfield.

When Frank Gore left, the road seemed clear for Marlon Mack to have a big role in Indianapolis. Then, the Colts grabbed Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins in the draft. Hines, in particular, has garnered a good amount of nice press during offseason workouts. Will the rookies be more than complementary pieces to Mack? Does Robert Turbin get anything significant when he returns from suspension?

Daniel Simpkins: Like the Eagles, this is a situation I’m largely avoiding for fantasy. I believe all these backs will get carries in a game, making picking which one to start on which week a frustrating task. Unlike the Eagles, I am still not trusting this offensive line completely. I am glad they have added Quinton Nelson to protect the interior and open up lanes, but there is more work to be done. Of the backs available, Nyheim Hines is the most interesting for PPR purposes, and the drumbeat has been steadily positive about his abilities. However, with his ADP steadily rising, I forecast that he’ll be overvalued by the time most folks are drafting.

Jeff Tefertiller: I do not have confidence in Mack coming off an injury. In addition, I take the Colts adding two backs in the draft as confirmation of this line of thought. Both rookies are cheap in redraft so no worries with either. Whichever running back pass protects best will play most One thing Frank Gore did exceptionally well.

Phil Alexander: Indianapolis running backs coach Tom Rathman didn't tell us everything we need to know about the Colts backfield hierarchy, but he did confirm the obvious -- this will be a true committee backfield.

'We’re going to play a lot of running backs," Rathman said. "You’re not going to have a bell cow, so to speak, a guy that’s going to carry the load. We’ve got a lot of different styles and I think anytime you have a lot of different styles, you want to try to utilize that."

Frank Reich has a history of split backfields as an offensive coordinator, most recently in Philadelphia, where he oversaw the Jay Ajayi-Corey Clement-LeGarrette Blount three-headed monster. What we saw unfold in April's draft was Reich putting the pieces in place to continue the trend.

Many are assuming Mack is the favorite to lead the team in carries, which is far from a sure thing. Not only is he a holdover from the previous front office regime, Mack was wildly inconsistent as a rookie, and his off-season shoulder surgery has opened the door for his competition to run with the starters at OTAs.

Hines -- a former wide receiver with track-star speed --appears to be the only member of the backfield with a clear role. Unfortunately for redraft owners, it's most likely that role is limited to kick returns and passing downs. His 10th-round ADP already feels too high unless you're playing best ball, where his overt athleticism will result in a handful of usable weeks.

Some scouts hyped Jordan Wilkins during draft season by comparing him favorably to DeMarco Murray. But while the fifth-rounder out of Ole Miss has a much better chance of making the roster due to Turbin's suspension, he still has much to prove in pass protection and his ability to run through tacklers before we can be sure he'll even see the field.

Ultimately, this is a camp battle to keep an eye on but not one to get overly excited about, even if the Colts announce a nominal starter. The best running back fantasy season in the Andrew Luck era was Frank Gore's 2016 when he was among the league-leaders with a 72% share of the team's total backfield touches. Gore still only finished with two top-12 weekly finishes that year. Yuck.

Ryan Hester: This situation is somewhat reminiscent of Green Bay's backfield last season. The narrative was that the team drafted two running backs because they weren't sold on Ty Montgomery. However, in the first three weeks of the season, Montgomery had as big a share of his backfield as anyone in the NFL. That changed because Montgomery got hurt - not because he was failing with his touches.

So while Indianapolis drafted two backs, that's not necessarily an indication that that don't believe in Mack. Sometimes, teams have to fill their depth charts, and there's not much more to the story. The elephant-sized difference between 2017 Green Bay and 2018 Indianapolis is that one team had a healthy Aaron Rodgers; the other has a still-rehabbing Andrew Luck.

Even if you believe that any of these players will seize a 65% piece of the pie, is the offense going to be good enough to make that worthwhile in fantasy football?

In typical redraft leagues, Mack is the most attractive. He's the early-season favorite to get the most touches, which means his upside is two or three RB2 weeks in the first month at an RB3 draft price. Owners must be willing to cut the cord, though, if Mack hasn't solidified that role by the time Turbin comes back.

Chad Parsons: Marlon Mack is a boom-or-bust runner, which can be a frustrating quality if a true lead back. Robert Turbin has lost some of his luster from his early Seattle days in a secondary role, plus the early-season suspension puts him behind the curve to grab a strong role. Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins are intriguing rookies into the fold, Wilkins with more interior appeal and Hines in the dynamic secondary profile of an NFL backfield's makeup. Mack will get every early opportunity to prove his worth as the No.1 option, but few in the redraft or dynasty community view Mack as a sturdy bet to thrive and keep the job. Expect the most weekly touches to be passed around a few times this season with Turbin and Wilkins as solid stashes for later in the year to log relevant games.

Andy Hicks: The Colts do not have a running back on their roster who was drafted in the first three rounds and that reflects the great uncertainty fantasy owners have in trying to read how this plays out in 2018. There appears to be no confidence in any back and with a roster starved of talent and developing what it has, we won’t see the true Colts runner of the future now. Expected starter, Marlon Mack didn’t see more than 11 carries in any one game last year and his draft stock seems to be minimal at best. Outside him is the uncertainty of two rookies, neither of whom look to have the credentials to seize the job outright. Maybe free agency presents other options, but the best choice may be to ignore this position unless it is a hit and hope late round pick.

Jason Wood: The Colts don't have a feature back on the roster, and won't all season. If Andrew Luck is healthy, the running game will vault to life, but it will most likely be a committee approach as my colleagues have intimated. Jordan Wilkins is the player worth taking a flier on in drafts because his ADP makes him virtually free. The odds are against a Colts running back delivering value, so the smart play is playing for a lottery ticket in the end game.

Matt Waldman: Marlon Mack has to develop patience as a runner -- especially as a short-yardage option. This requires a lot more attention to footwork and understanding blocking schemes other than the few gap plays (trap, counter, and power) and open-field type of running (draws and screens) that he is accustomed.

Nyheim Hines has receiving skills and can be used similarly to Mack but with greater maturity than Mack's 2017 tape. He lacks Mack's size and tackle-breaking potential, but Mack has to prove that he can graduate from flashy athlete to all-around football player.

Jordan Wilkins could become the feature back. He's one of the most underrated options in this year's vaunted running back class. He's an excellent inside runner who understands how to set up blocks and he possesses good quickness, one-cut agility, and excellent balance. He's not fast, but if you're still emphasizing 40-speed for running backs, you're doing it wrong. Wilkins' style bears a lot of similarities to Arian Foster and Matt Forte.

Turbin is a solid option, but he's not a dynamic athlete. Behind a better line, he'd be competent.

That better line may come sooner than later, especially if guard Quentin Nelson plays to his potential and helps transform this line's run blocking. If the Colts continue running a lot of gap plays, Nelson could be a key part of a quick turnaround.

Mack won't be on my draft lists. Hines will likely be overpriced due to fantasy owners coveting his 40-speed and catching ability. If he isn't vaulted into the range of Duke Johnson Jr, Chris Thompson, and Tarik Cohen. Turbin will be the option during the second half of drafts that guys who brag about getting value will take.

I'd rather take Wilkins in the final round or monitor on the waiver wire because Frank Reich stated the Colts would use a committee. Barring injury or Wilkins lighting up training camp, this will have to play out for a number of weeks. Wilkins will have to wait for the S.S. Mack to finish sinking before he earns a true shot.

Wood: To elaborate on my earlier response, I should have said Indianapolis probably doesn't have a feature back on its roster. As Matt so eloquently illustrated, Wilkins could emerge. The more early drafts I participate in, the more excited I am to grab Wilkins in the late rounds. He should be viewed as more than a lottery ticket.

Devin Knotts: The only running back I have interest in this season is Nyheim Hines and it is entirely based on the narrative that Andrew Luck may not be 100% healthy by the start of the season and look to dump the ball down to running backs. If you're looking for this year's Alvin Kamara as a later round pick who caught 80 passes Hines could be the guy.

I really like Wilkins long-term, but just think it's going to be extremely frustrating dealing with the Eagles mentality of Frank Reich who I fully expect will rotate these backs frequently much like the Eagles did last season.

Bob Henry: I like Marlon Mack, but having done a dozen or so MFL 10s, I'm getting Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins on a lot of my teams and not landing Mack on any of them. That's purely based on cost. Where Mack is going, I'm typically looking at my first quarterback, a tight end, or adding more depth at receiver or a different back and opting for Hines (particularly because of the PPR scoring) because he's readily available after Round 10. Similarly, Wilkins is available a few rounds later and he could easily end up with 100+ touches and provide perhaps stiffer competition for Mack as an every-down back while Hines becomes more of the Sproles-like back that gets moved around
from the backfield to the slot in the passing game.

I have downgraded Robert Turbin due to his suspension and I could be undervaluing his potential given that Frank Reich does like to utilize multiple players in his backfield. I like the younger backs, though, and project each of them with larger roles by mid-season than Turbin, so missing the first few games to suspension does nothing but slide Turbin down the depth chart early on and it puts him in a hole that he may not emerge from if two of the three younger players emerge or prove reliable.

I truly think Wilkins is the best value because he's essentially free and I can visualize a scenario where he beats Mack for the early down role in training camp. Ultimately, it's cloudy and all three or four will split time to some degree. With that said, it becomes a situation where you a) avoid completely or b) invest with the minimal cost.